The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity
We've all asked, "What is the world coming to?" But we seldom ask, "How bad was the world in the past?" In this book, the author, a cognitive scientist shows that the past was much worse; and that we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species' existence. Evidence of a bloody history has always been around us: genocides in the Old Testament, gory mutilations in Shakespeare and Grimm, monarchs who beheaded their relatives, and American founders who dueled with their rivals; the nonchalant treatment in popular culture of wife-beating, child abuse, and the extermination of native peoples. The murder rate in medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were common features of life for millennia, then were suddenly abolished. How could this have happened, if human nature has not changed? The author argues that thanks to the spread of government, literacy, trade, and cosmopolitanism, we increasingly control our impulses, empathize with others, bargain rather than plunder, debunk toxic ideologies, and deploy our powers of reason to reduce the temptations of violence.-- From publisher description.